We need autistic actors playing autistic roles on stage, says Curious Incident adviser

Cian Binchy is the only UK autistic solo performer producing his own work

Nick Clark
Thursday 13 August 2015 21:32 BST
Cian Binchy says there are many talented performers and writers on the autistic spectrum
Cian Binchy says there are many talented performers and writers on the autistic spectrum (Facebook)

Performers and other creative people with autism should be taken “out of the ghetto” and on to major stages around the country, the only autistic solo performer currently producing his own work in the UK has said.

Cian Binchy said he hopes one day to see an actor on the autism spectrum play the lead in the hit production about the condition, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Mr Binchy, who advised the National Theatre on its production of Curious Incident, is to perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for the first time this month, taking his work The Misfit Analysis.

While his dream to perform at the festival will soon be realised, the 25-year-old pointed out that most artists with autism have few chances.

“Often people with autism who have talent are not given the opportunities they deserve,” he said. “It’s vital there are more opportunities. I do hope one day learning-disabled performance art will be pushed out of the ghetto and into the mainstream.”

This year’s film X+Y focused on the story of an autistic teenager, and it follows the National’s adaptation of Curious Incident about another autistic young man, Christopher Boone.

The National brought Mr Binchy in to consult, and he helped advise Luke Treadaway, the first actor to play Christopher, who went on to win an Olivier Award. “I enjoyed the experience and they all seem very nice,” he said. “But it’s very hard to teach how to be autistic to someone.”

He continued: “I would like to see a real autistic person playing Christopher. Though not myself, I’m too tall.”

With The Misfit Analysis Mr Binchy has created a show to challenge the perceptions about autism and he hopes it will open audiences eyes “to the fact that some people with autism have real talent”.

The play is a journey into the autistic mind, using multi-media video projection and performance poetry and will play for nine performances at the Pleasance Courtyard venue during the fringe. It is the first time he has performed for an hour on stage.

He hopes that Edinburgh will just be the start for the show, and is looking to tour it next year. “This is just the beginning,” he said. “I hope there will be life for the show after the festival but I’m also going to be writing more stuff not just about disabilities but about the world.”

Mr Binchy has performed as a poet at the Lyric Hammersmith, several pub venues and at the opening ceremony of the Royal Festival Hall.

He developed the work with Access All Areas, a theatre company that works with learning-disabled artists and said it would make the audience laugh, make them uncomfortable, but most of all “be thought provoking”.

“I wanted to show that autism is a very complicated thing,” he said. “People with autism, though they have differences with so-called normal people, there are also some similarities and they want the same opportunities as everyone else.”

Nick Llewellyn, artistic director of the theatre company and director of the show, said: “This is very much Cian’s personal story and it’s focused around his mind and experiences in the outside world. It’s been really exciting for us as we developed it.”

Last year the Edinburgh Fringe saw several plays with autism as the basis including Echolalia, The Trip – a comedy performed by adults with autism – and Spectrum, based on the life of Temple Grandin, who was diagnosed with severe autism at the age of three but went on to achieve a doctorate in animal science.

Yet, the scene is “notably lacking in excellent learning-disabled creative voices,” Access All Areas said, adding of Mr Binchy: “We know of no other autistic solo-performers authoring their own work in the UK.”

Mr Binchy was among the first graduates of Central’s Performance Making Diploma for adults with learning difficulties run by Access All Areas. “It’s thanks to companies like this, who take learning-disabled art seriously and don’t just shove it in the ghetto. It needs to be taken seriously,” Mr Binchy said.

Autistic traits: The paradox

People who show signs of autism may find the condition socially restricting, but they are much more likely to think “outside of the box” when it comes to problem solving, says new research.

Psychologists from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the University of Stirling today published research on links between autistic traits and creativity, in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Participants were asked to think of uses for a paper clip or a brick. Those who showed autistic traits came up with fewer responses but more creative ones. They used the paper clip as a weight on a paper plane, to support cut flowers or as a spring.

The more common responses were to use it as a hook, as jewellery or to clean grooves in tight spaces.

UEA’s Martin Doherty said: “People with high autistic traits could be said to have less quantity but greater quality of creative ideas.”

Dr Doherty said that the findings addressed a paradox that the condition was characterised by restricted behaviour and interests, but the responses were often “unusually creative”.

Autistic stars triumph through adversity

Stephen Wiltshire

Diagnosed as autistic aged three, Wiltshire draws and paints detailed cityscapes, sometimes after looking at them only briefly. His work has become popular around the world. The 41-year-old Londoner, who was mute as a child and did not relate to other people, received an MBE for his services to the art world in 2006.

Temple Grandin

The US animal behaviour expert and professor of animal science did not speak until the age of four. In 2010, she was named on Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential people in the world. She also campaigns for autism rights and was the subject of a Hollywood film, starring Claire Danes, titled Temple Grandin.

Alan Gardner

The Birmingham-born presenter of Channel 4 series The Autistic Gardener, who has Aspergers syndrome, has won a string of awards for his RHS show gardens including two gold medals at Tatton Park and awards at Chelsea Flower Show and Hampton Court. He says his designs are inspired by everything from architecture to conceptual art.

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